The Diamond Formula

The Diamond Formula
by Alina Simone

A possible genius, a smidgen of madness, a twist of science, and an invention that very nearly changed the world—all collide in a giddy, unbelievably true mystery set in turn-of-the-century Paris.

In 1905, inventor Henri Lemoine claimed that he’d uncovered the secret to a coveted alchemy: creating diamonds in a laboratory. It intrigued a host of investors, and it soon made Lemoine an international celebrity. Then he disappeared.

The Diamond Formula is part of Inventions: Untold Stories of the Beautiful Era, a collection of incredible true stories from the belle epoque, an age of innovation, daring, bluster, and beauty when anything seemed possible. Each piece can be read, listened to, and marveled at in a single sitting.

Amazon’s Inventions: Untold Stories of the Beautiful Era collection may be my favorite discovery of 2019. It consists of three nonfiction novellas covering the inventions and discoveries of the early 1900s. I listened to the audiobook versions which were an interesting mix of audiobook and podcast. Actually, I often felt as if I was listening to a radio broadcast of the events. I enjoyed the format as a nonfiction lover and I feel it will make nonfiction more accessible for those new to the genre.

The Diamond Formula was the second story I read in the Inventions series; it was also my least favorite. Now, that doesn’t mean this review is going to be negative. I just don’t typically enjoy stories about con-men and that is probably the nicest way to describe Henri Lemoine. I just couldn’t make myself care about his life or the outcome of his actions. And well, it is hard to get past that when the audiobook is only an hour long.

The Diamond Formula discusses the initial attempts to create artificial diamonds and covers the development of the De Beers diamond dynasty. So in this story, readers are exposed to the blood diamond trade, often questionable acquisition techniques used by big business to control the competition, and the implications that basic lying has on the scientific community. So it was kinda a rough read guys. I love how this series doesn’t attempt to lessen the good and bad effects of actions but instead focuses on how this moment in time resulted in eventual positive developments for society/art/science/safety/technology…and Simone does a wonderful job with this. I still struggled with finishing the book in a positive frame of mind.

The good thing is this story reminded me of perusing the gem stone section of Natural History Museums visited in my childhood. Thinking about museums always makes me happy! And The Diamond Formula pushed me to realize there are aspects of history I still need to explore, no matter how tough the content. Read it, and then go dance in the rain just for the sheer joy of doing so.

Lindsay

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Ghostwalk

Ghostwalk

by Rebecca Stott

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A Cambridge historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is found drowned, clutching a glass prism in her hand. The book she was writing about Isaac Newton’s involvement with alchemy — the culmination of her lifelong obsession with the seventeenth century — remains unfinished. When her son, Cameron, asks his former lover, Lydia Brooke, to ghostwrite the missing final chapters of his mother’s book, Lydia agrees and moves into Elizabeth’s house — a studio in an orchard where the light moves restlessly across the walls.

Soon Lydia discovers that the shadow of violence that has fallen across present-day Cambridge, which escalates to a series of murders, may have its origins in the troubling evidence that Elizabeth’s research has unearthed. As Lydia becomes ensnared in a dangerous conspiracy that reawakens ghosts of the past, the seventeenth century slowly seeps into the twenty-first, with the city of Cambridge the bridge between them.

Filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, Ghostwalk centers around a real historical mystery that Rebecca Stott has uncovered involving Newton’s alchemy. In it, time and relationships are entangled — the present with the seventeenth century, and figures from the past with the love-torn twenty-first-century woman who is trying to discover their secrets.

A stunningly original display of scholarship and imagination, and a gripping story of desire and obsession, Ghostwalk is a rare debut that will change the way most of us think about scientific innovation, the force of history, and time itself.

I picked up the audio version of Ghostwalk from my local library. My initial though was “hmmmm Newton…why not?” The good thing is that I learned a ton of interesting information about Newton’s studies at Cambridge, but unfortunately, I was not impressed by the modern fiction plot line.

I’m going to start with all the things I enjoyed about Ghostwalk. I love the information about Newton. I found his experiments with light fascinating and wish there had been more details on the early production of glass. I like how Stott wove together the intricate murder mysteries of the past, and these events alone have me wanting to do my own research. And I enjoy the focus on alchemy; Stott’s research was impressive. I enjoyed how Elizabeth teaches Lydia how to visualize the past through smells and stories. And I even like the journal style format.

And now for the bad…I had a hard time connecting with Lydia, which isn’t good as she is the main character. Basically, she chooses to be in a relationship with a married man and her constant focus on this relationship bogged down the story. We all know it’s going to end…badly! And I had a difficult time even caring for Cameron as everything he said and did felt overly manipulative and arrogant. Not my type of guy and his very few redeeming qualities only diminished as the novel progressed. But it wasn’t just the crap relationship that left me feeling ‘eh’ about Ghostwalk. The plot was bogged down by the rough melding of Lydia’s timeline, the animal research activists, and the ghostly resurgence of Newton’s past. It was hard to enjoy over my annoyance at Lydia and the jumpy plot.

Ghostwalk wasn’t a bad story but not one that I would ever read again. I was impressed by Stott’s research and presentation of historic information, but not by the plot development. It was interesting to learn about Newton and his experiments, and I wouldn’t mind learning more. Next time I may pick up a nonfiction instead of a historical fiction novel.

Do you enjoy learning about Newton and alchemy? Have you read Ghostwalk? Tell me what you think.

Lindsay